Over the past few years, many hundreds of the future students and their families who arrived on campus for the first time were greeted in the Alumni Memorial Building by a warm and welcoming man who possessed a particularly uncommon knowledge of the university.
Little did these visitors know the extent of the man’s knowledge, the depth of his commitment, or the significance of his impact on Lehigh.
Few of these visitors knew how much Bill Hittinger loved to attend concerts at the Zoellner Arts Center or wrestling matches in Grace Hall. Few would have realized that the kindly and soft-spoken volunteer giving them directions had served as chair of the Board of Trustees and as president of the university, and that he and his wife, Betty, had established an endowed scholarship fund for deserving students.
William C. Hittinger, a member of the Class of 1944, died March 17 at the age of 90. His life was full of the joy of friends and family, of accomplishment and generosity, and of loyal service to his alma mater.“Unparalleled grace”
“Bill Hittinger was an inspiration who epitomized all that is great at Lehigh,” said Lehigh President Alice Gast. “His grace and wisdom were unparalleled, and I will greatly miss his friendship and wise counsel. Bill leaves a lasting and meaningful legacy for the university and all of our students.”
Born and raised in Bethlehem, Hittinger attended Liberty High School and graduated with honors from Lehigh with a B.S. in metallurgical engineering. He attended Lehigh year round as an advanced ROTC student during the early years of World War II, and he went on active duty in the U.S. Army in 1943 before graduating a year later.
At Lehigh, he was a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and quarterback for the football team. After graduation, he completed three years of duty as an Army captain.
Hittinger went on to work more than 45 years for RCA Corp., becoming executive vice president for research and engineering after overseeing corporate technology, patents, licensing, international business and marketing development, and corporate technology planning.
During his career with RCA, Hittinger was responsible for many of the corporation’s major operating units, as well as RCA Laboratories. He joined RCA after serving as president of General Instrument Corp., and he held executive positions with affiliates of the Bell System, working at one point on systems engineering operations for NASA’s manned spaceflight program.
He served as a member of President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee from 1982 to 1986, the U.S.-Brazil Presidential Committee on Science and Technology in 1987, and the board of the National Action Committee for Minorities in Engineering.A legacy of philanthropy
After retiring 1986, Hittinger devoted the remainder of his life to philanthropic pursuits, traveling with his wife, visiting his children and grandchildren, and playing golf and tennis.
Three of the couple’s four children graduated from Lehigh: William in 1971, David in 1975 and Nancy in 1978. Two grandchildren—Jonathan Hittinger ’98 and Letitia Hittinger ’02—are also alumni.
Hittinger’s devotion to Lehigh was unwavering. In 1973, he received an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree, and in 1979, he received the “L-in-Life Award” from the Lehigh Club of New York for distinguished service to his alma mater. He was also inducted into the Lehigh Sports Hall of Fame for his contributions on and off the field.
He joined Lehigh’s Board of Trustees in 1972 and served on a wide range of committees throughout the course of his tenure, distinguishing himself for his broad understanding of issues in higher education, his leadership qualities, and his ability to reconcile differences between factions.
In October, 1997, Hittinger was tapped to serve as interim president of Lehigh. He stepped in when former President Peter Likins assumed the presidency of the University of Arizona. Hittinger later documented his experiences in a personal perspective in Trusteeship magazine.“A major force in Lehigh’s history”
Ronald J. Ulrich ’66, ’67, ’05H, another former chair of Lehigh’s Board of Trustees and the man who appointed Hittinger to the presidency, described him as “a major force in Lehigh's history.
“When I arrived as a board member, Bill was chair. He was esteemed by all because of his dedication to the university and because of his many, many fine qualities,” Ulrich said. “He was fair-minded, patient, deliberate, incisive, trustworthy and honest to the core. He was the ultimate son of Lehigh and we were very fortunate to have him as a colleague and friend."
Ted Scheetz ’54 and fellow “L-in-Life Award” recipient, remembers Hittinger as “an outstanding man and a dedicated trustee,” who also had a deep love of Lehigh.
“Hittinger did much to add luster to Lehigh’s name,” said Scheetz. “I was privileged to serve with him on the board. He will be missed.”
During Hittinger’s two-year presidency, Lehigh celebrated the inaugural year of the Zoellner Arts Center, expanded financial aid to half of the undergraduate student body, and completed the new Ulrich Student Center and the Fitness Center in Taylor Gym.
Bill Hittinger’s legacy is deep at Lehigh and he will be remembered forever for his leadership and dedication and for his passion for his family, his alma mater, and his life’s work.
In addition to wife and children, Hittinger is survived by 11 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and two sisters.